It is very quiet. Nothing moves. The precision of this highly fragile arrangement is breathtaking. It is the expression of a simple idea full of infinite variation. This is the most famous Zen garden in the world – Ryoan-ji.
There are no prescribed routes to follow, no obviously engineered views. The remarkably sparse planting opens a multitude of angles. Walking through the garden presents ever changing compositions of shapes, textures, colours. Every visitor is invited to find their own perspective.
The crammed grid of houses in the middle of Kyoto left no space for gardens. But there were plants – in pots. They stood in front of nearly every house, usually in groups by the front door. Some houses were almost surrounded by a collection of containers, all tightly packed with plants.
Before our trip to Japan I had not expected urban streets to hold particular horticultural interest. After we arrived I was immediately fascinated by the interplay of tight control and wild exuberance. – This is the first of a two-part photo essay on urban planting in Japan.
My grandmother’s joy was most apparent the moment she returned to the house. She proudly filled vases with flowers and prepared delicious meals from the fruit and vegetables she had grown. The garden was my grandmother’s domain, her sanctuary, and the source of her self confidence.
For the past seven years the magnolia has been our borrowed landscape, a generous gift from its previous owner to the whole neighbourhood. I try not to think about its absence. After a long winter every green shoot seems like a miracle, but a whole tree covered in hundreds, maybe thousands, of large-petalled flowers is the boldest statement of renewal.
My Englishman’s garden, and mine [part 2] – The idea for our garden was simply to mix edibles and ornamentals. To me the principle was so radical, yet so simple that I wondered why it wasn’t more widely applied, particularly to small gardens. My Englishman liked the idea of a mixed garden, some of it edible, some of it ornamental, and all of it attractive.
My Englishman’s garden, and mine [part 1] – The result was spectacular. The garden’s design was suddenly of a piece. The finely-textured wood resonated with the materials used inside the house. The garden’s clean-cut lines made it feel uncluttered and luxuriously spacious. Finally we could start to plant.
My garden had always felt magical, from the moment I first saw it in the company of the estate agent. But on those warm nights in high summer, with the added intrigue of the unexpectedly tall meadow, my garden seemed otherworldly.
I decided this grass mono-culture was where I would try to make a difference as a gardener. If I managed to diversify the planting in this area, it would create more beauty for my own enjoyment as well as more diverse habitats for wildlife. That would be the perfect balance of my needs and those of the ecosystem that was my garden.